SYDNEY Asian markets settled in for a subdued session on Friday as investors counted down the hours to the U.S. jobs report, while the euro nursed a grudge after the European Central Bank opened the door to more aggressive easing, albeit not just yet.
With virtually no major data of note due in Asia, the early action was unsurprisingly tepid. Australia's share market was flat , while MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS had barely budged.
Nikkei futures pointed to a modest early dip, though a softer yen should provide some support. Wall Street was no livelier, with the Dow .DJI ending flat and the S&P 500 .SPX off 0.11 percent.
The March U.S. payrolls report looms as a major test to the argument that the economic weakness of January and February was due to bad weather and the recovery is still on track.
Median forecasts are for a rise of 200,000 in payrolls, though dealers say the whisper number in markets is now something nearer 220,000. A result around there should reassure the optimists and tend to underpin the dollar and stocks.
Perversely a much stronger read might not be so positive for shares since it could reignite speculation of an earlier rate hike from the Federal Reserve.
Likewise, a weak number would likely hurt the dollar and boost Treasuries, but the impact on equities might be tempered by expectations monetary policy would stay loose for longer.
Thursday's U.S. numbers were too mixed to draw any conclusions on the outlook for policy.
The ISM measure of service sector activity bounced to 53.1 in March, and while it was slightly below forecasts it did show a welcome recovery in employment intentions.
However, data also showed an unexpected widening of the U.S. trade deficit which implied net exports were a much bigger drag on the economy last quarter than first thought. Indeed, RBS halved their forecast for growth to just 0.6 percent annualized.
NOT NOW, BUT MAYBE SOMETIME
In Europe, the ECB took no new action, as was widely expected, but President Mario Draghi was at pains to emphasize their willingness to act if inflation stayed low.
Crucially, Draghi declared the policy making council was "unanimous" on using unconventional easing if needed. That marked a major change as some countries, notably Germany, have long opposed steps such as quantitative easing.
European bond yields fell as a result and even Greek 30-year bond yields slipped 6 percent for the first time since the global financial crisis.
That in turn dragged down the euro to a five-week trough at $1.3698, and early Friday it was hovering at $1.3717.
The setback in the euro saw the dollar index .DXY climb to its highest level since Feb 27. The greenback also extended gains on the yen, popping above 104.00 for the first time since Jan 23. It last traded at 103.90 yen.
In commodities markets, gold and copper prices were weighed by the strength in the greenback. Spot gold was pinned at
$1,286.80 an ounce, and three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was down 0.5 percent at $6,642.
Brent crude rose above $106 a barrel a day after hitting a five-month low, as doubts persisted that a lasting deal was imminent to reopen vital Libyan oil ports.
Brent was at $106.15 a barrel after a bounce of 1.4 percent on Thursday, while U.S. crude added 4 cents to $100.33 a barrel.
(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)